FORT WASHINGTON – Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland came to life last week with the help of local students who happily embraced the challenge of preparing for a production in just a week.
The largest children’s touring theater in the nation, Missoula, Mont.-based Missoula Children’s Theatre (MCT), came to Harmony Hall Regional Center to put on an original play adaptation based on the novels “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass,” written by Lewis Carroll. Auditions for the musical were held Jan. 9 and the performance occurred less than a week later on Jan. 14.
Stuart Diekmeyer, Director of Arts for Harmony Hall, said Harmony Hall has worked with MCT for more than 20 years, serving as the presenting organization for the shows, which change yearly. Diekmeyer said that children who landed roles in MCT musical productions seemed to gain confidence in themselves, increase their speaking skills, gain experience being on stage, and demonstrate a sense of commitment.
“It’s a very professional approach. (Children) rehearse in the evening, usually about three to four hours, and then they put the production on, on a Saturday. Sometimes (it’s) just one production. We’ve been doing two for a number of years,” Diekmeyer said. “We have a lot of repeats (returning participants) as I call them, and see the same faces every year, sometimes for four years in a row.
“The age group is K-12, so it really opens a lot of opportunities for kids. A lot of them really, that’s what they enjoy, but there are also newcomers… This is their first time (in a MCT production and) they want to try it, so it caters to a diverse group of students in terms of interests and experience.”
MCT is a performing arts organization with a solid track record of bringing out positive qualities in children. MCT’s mission is “the development of life skills in children through participation in the performing arts.” It provides the props and costumes needed for the play, and the performance’s two directors – Gabrielle Leo and Ellen Dyar – are professional tour actor/directors who work for MCT. As a part of their residency there, they helped local children learn their parts within a week.
Diekmeyer said 70 children auditioned for the 68 parts available in the Alice in Wonderland musical.
Before the performance on Saturday, children of all ages showed up with their parents and grandparents, removed the coats that shielded them from the rain, and headed inside the performance space. Before turning the corner, a 6-year-old named Aria Jones stopped to talk about singing a song she learned during rehearsal for the big production. Shortly after Aria’s arrival, 4-year-old Victoria Simonson showed up ready to show the public what she learned. Simonson, a preschool student who lives in Fort Washington, said that she enjoys singing, too.
“We’ve been practicing songs,” Victoria said confidently, before changing into a red lobster costume.
Older youth like Zakira Moody, 15, were also represented in Alice in Wonderland. The homeschool student who resides in Hyattsville said her mother discovered MCT eight or 10 years ago. Alice in Wonderland marked Zakira’s third or fourth time working with MCT, and her older sister also participated in the program. The singer and songwriter, who eventually plans to get exposure for her music, said she has always been active in the arts. Zakira added that MCT, which is a world-renowned company, teaches youth to feel comfortable in their own skin. Auditions require them to be loud and expressive, forcing youth to come out of their comfort zones.
“Missoula does a twist on your normal childhood fairytales, so we’re doing Alice in Wonderland right now, but it’s not the same thing,” Zakira explained. “We have the Chesire Cat, the Mad Hatter, and all of the regular characters, but then we have singing flowers, and we have fish, and frogs and lobsters, and all of these other crazy characters, but it always comes together, and it is like a great experience to be in and to watch. I’ve been on both sides of the spectrum. In general, it’s just a very exciting and enjoyable experience.”